SPH professor helps orphans get critical nutrition
Epidemiology professor John Himes has spent more than four decades helping vulnerable children receive adequate nutrition. Without the right nutrients in the early months for brain and body development, children may never catch up to their peers.
Himes gives his time to the SPOON (Supply and Provide Overseas Orphans Nutrition) Foundation, created by two United States mothers who had adopted Kazakh children challenged by nutrient deficits. These mothers originally founded SPOON to give a better start to the 48,000 institutionalized children in Kazakhstan, and now the organization is expanding its reach.
With the Kazakh Academy of Nutrition, Himes designed a study that is the first in the country—and in all of Central Asia—to explore the nutritional needs of institutionalized children.
“The orphanages in Kazakhstan are not grim like those that were shut down in Romania,” he says. “They are run by wellintentioned people, but no one follows even outdated nutrition standards.”
Study divided kids into 4 groups
The study observed children 6 to 24 months old and randomly assigned their orphanages into four groups: one was the control, the second received a vitamin/ mineral supplement, the third ate a new nutrition-enriched diet, and the fourth got both the supplement and the special diet. Himes followed the groups for nine months, which for undernourished children, he says, is long enough to make a difference.
The Kazakh Ministry of Health has committed to consider changing the nutrition policies in all its orphanages based on the study’s findings, says Himes. In December, Himes will represent SPOON in Kazakhstan to report the results at a national news conference.
Himes is also leading a second SPOON study funded by a multi-year grant from the Joint Council on International Children’s Services. This study will look at orphaned children’s nutritional needs in many countries, starting in China, Vietnam, and Mexico, and develop training tools to help caregivers better understand and meet those needs.
Orphaned children around the world—143 million of them—face the psychosocial and health problems that come with being institutionalized, says Himes. They shouldn’t have to deal with the damages of poor nutrition.
“These kids have the right to be healthy,” he says. “That’s the summum bonum, the highest good. Most have just never had anyone to advocate for them.”